Now Kundo

Lunghu has been wondering why his blog is suddenly receiving dozens of visits from (South) Korean netizens, many of whom have been reading a three-and-one-half-year-old blogpost about the thwarted Korean romance of Vladimir Putin’s youngest daughter.  Now, he believes that the mystery can perhaps be explained, even if it’s not exactly solved.

It seems that –in Korea– there’s a wildly popular new addition to one of Lunghu’s favorite cinematic genres: the Korean historical drama.  Although the film premiered on a Wednesday night, it has already been a runaway success.

Kundo: Age of the Rampant” [ Kundo: min-ran-eui si-dae ] directed by Yoon Jong-bin and starring Ha Jung-woo and Gang Dong-won, drew a record-high 1 million viewers in its first 48 hours, dwarfing its competitors at the box office.

 “Kundo” is set in the 13th year of King Cheoljong’s reign in mid-19th century Joseon, when rampant corruption in the ruling class and its exploitation of the populace pushed the common people over the edge [into open rebellion].  Dol Mu-chi (Ha Jung-woo) is a not-so-bright but kind-hearted butcher, who one day makes a dangerous deal with Jo Yoon (Gang Dong-won), the illegitmate son of a ruthless nobleman and oppressor of the peasantry. This leads to the death of Dol Mu-chi’s mother and sister.  Deep grief and anger leads Dol Mu-chi to organize a righteous band of thieves/resistance group of serfs and bandits called “Kundo.”  Kundo steals from corrupt public officials and gives to the poor.

cut to the chase

Sure, it’s a classic plotline –told many times before in many different lands– but what does any of this have to do with a scattershot American blog called “Waking the Dragon“?!!?  Here’s what:  Kundo is directed by Yoon Jong-bin.  Lunghu’s 2010 blogpost about Yekaterina Vladimirova mentioned the father of her Korean boyfriend, a retired ROK admiral named Yoon Jong-gu.  The theory here is that Naver search engine queries on the phrase “Yoon Jong-bin” may also have returned links to webpages with the term “Yoon Jong-gu.”

Lunghu isn’t complaining, though.  For two (somewhat related) reasons.  First, because this weird algorithmic cross-linkage has reminded Lunghu of something he’d just dimly realized until now: that Yoon Jong-bin is also the director of another Korean film that Lunghu admires –2012’s “Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time.”  Second, Lunghu is encouraged to see that Korean filmmakers are using the power of cinematic storytelling to expose and criticize the corrosive corruption that pervades Korean society today (just as it did in the 19th century, and the 18th, and the 17th…).

In Nameless Gangster, Yoon used the story of a minor customs-official-turned-gangster to depict systematic corruption in his hometown Busan during the Park Chung-hee era. The film was released just as Park’s daughter Geun-hye was running for the office of Korean President.  Get the picture?

In Kundo, Yoon takes a step back a bit further in history to the 1800s, to show us that the more things change the more they stay the same. “Rampant corruption in the ruling class and its exploitation of the populace?” It’s been around for a while, and throughout the centuries the response of the gukmin has often been armed rebellion.

In between Kundo and Nameless Gangster, there’s a clearly visible gap in cinematic treatment of Korea’s 20th century history.  What Lunghu would like to see, but doesn’t expect any time soon, is a Korean historical drama that addresses corruption, collaboration and complicity in the Japanese occupation era (circa 1910 to 1945).  This is a huge taboo topic in South Korean culture because of its political and ideological implications, but an honest and heated discussion of the issues may be what’s necessary to loosen the grip of corrupt power brokers in 21st century Korea. Will Yoon Jong-bin have the guts and financial backing to tackle the ghostly demon that torments modern Korea?  Maybe not.  But maybe somebody else will.  Let’s hope.



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